Read an Excerpt
Freedom from Fear
A Seven-Day Meditation Program
By Susan Piver
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Susan Piver
All rights reserved.
Day One: The Day of Slowing Down
Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.
— ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
All spiritual practice begins with slowing down, letting the concerns of everyday life drop away, and turning one's attention inward. This evening, allow your body to slow down. If you're not at home, don't rush through unpacking. When you sit down to journal or meditate, take your seat gently. Don't multitask. Do one thing at a time. Breathe deeply. Allow your mind to expand. Know that, for the next thirty-six hours, you're going to let it rest quietly. When body and mind slow down, the spirit comes forward.
As you begin the program, realize that learning these practices could mark a turning point in your life, so really go for it. "Leap, and the net will appear," as the saying goes. You can trust that when you take your first step, even if it appears to be into thin air, the net begins readying itself to catch you. The leap and the net come into existence at the same time. So as you do this inner work, the world around you seems magically to create the circumstances and coincidences that will support you best.
5:00-6:00 P.M. SET UP
Whether you're in your bedroom, a friend's house, a hotel, or a retreat center, do what you can to make sure your space will be available by 5:00 P.M. There is nothing magical about 5:00 P.M., but it's helpful to have a clearly delineated start time and to begin your retreat with a sense of discipline. If you're using your bedroom, make sure that you've cleaned up and put away distracting or irritating things. Make sure you have the groceries you'll need for the entire thirty-six hours. If you're going to a friend's house, take care to have checked out and prepared the space beforehand. Come a little early to do so, but be ready by 6:00 P.M.
If you're at a hotel, ask that your room be in a quiet spot. Unplug the telephone. Turn off your cell phone and stash it. Cover the TV with a blanket, or swivel it around to face a wall. When you shut the door, your space should feel good — safe, but maybe a little exciting.
Unpack your retreat box. Create a shrine by placing the object that represents your highest wisdom somewhere neat and clean. A bookshelf, bedside table, or windowsill is good. Since this object represents what is most precious to you, you don't want to place it on the floor, in a closet, or amid a bunch of cookie crumbs. Next, place your offering next to or in front of your item. Do so with a sense of gratitude for this gift of solitude and quiet.
Choose a place for your meditation. It could be facing your shrine or not. If you have a cushion, set it up in a clean and, if possible, out-of-the-way spot. If this isn't possible, it's no big deal. Simply decide where you're going to sit and be prepared to set your cushion there during meditation periods. If you aren't using a traditional cushion, decide whether you'll be sitting on a chair, a sofa, or the bed. If you've chosen a chair or sofa, make sure it's one you can sit up straight in, back unsupported, feet on the floor. If you're going to sit on the bed, figure out a way to stack pillows so that you can sit comfortably but upright. You could sit cross-legged or on the edge of the bed or with your feet on the floor. If your feet don't reach the floor, stack some pillows or cushions under them to bring your knees level with or slightly above your hips.
Unpack your clothes, toiletries, groceries, and so on.
6:00-7:00 P.M. JOURNALING, DINNER, CLEANUP, WALK
Open your journal. For your first journaling exercise, take about twenty minutes (or longer if you wish) to make note of what your senses are able to take in. For now, leave your feelings behind, forget about whatever motivated you to do this program, and look around you. What are your surroundings like? What type of furniture does this room contain? What are you sitting or lying on, and how does it feel? Is it comfortable? What colors can you see? What can you smell or hear? How does it feel to be in this room — not how do you feel, but how does the room feel — is it serene, jumbled, warm, plain? Does it feel like a happy, unhappy, or neutral place to be?
Note how your body feels. Scan from your feet to your head, and jot down whatever you notice. "The bottoms of my feet hurt. My back is so comfortable against these pillows. My chest feels warm. My eyeglasses are pinching the bridge of my nose a tiny bit." And so on. This is a way of attuning to your environment and settling into it by making contact with its energy through the placement of your attention. When you're finished, set your journal aside and get ready for dinner.
Dinner should either be prepared already or easy to prepare. Whether you cooked in advance, picked up takeout, or need to cook now, keep it simple and nourishing. It shouldn't take more than thirty minutes to prepare, nor should it be a bag of cookies or chips. Eat something you know is basically good for you. As you eat, you can read one of the books you brought, or do nothing but taste your food.
Take a twenty-minute walk unless it's freezing cold or you're in a dangerous neighborhood. Walk around the block. Take your time. This walk isn't meant to be athletic. Walking is an uncomplicated way to connect with your body and digest your food. If you're on familiar turf and you have a portable audio player, you can listen to your quiet playlist while you walk. Otherwise, pay attention to your breath and take in your surroundings.
7:00-10:00 P.M. JOURNALING, RELAXATION, SLEEP
Get your journal out again and make yourself comfortable. During this exercise, you'll be turning your attention inward to begin a dialogue with yourself. The following sentences are like little prayers, requesting the blessings of whomever or whatever you believe to be the source of blessings. If you have no such beliefs, this is fine. If it's more comfortable to you, don't think of them as prayers but look at them as markers that set your intentions in motion, little ways of telling yourself the truth about what's on your mind. What you write should be fairly simple and straightforward. Don't rush, but don't spend an inordinate amount of time finding the perfect words either. Write what comes to mind. You can always tweak this later.
Please help me to _________ so that I may_________.
Please guide me to _________ so that I may _________.
Please show me _________ so that I may _________.
Please teach me _________ so that I may _________.
Here are some examples of things you might say:
Please help me to quit smoking so that I may be healthy.
Please guide me to the people or circumstances who can help me find a job doing work I really love so that I may express myself fully.
Please show me how to talk with my sister so that I may stop fighting with her.
Please teach me how to have confidence so that I may ask for what I'm worth.
Keep it simple, but if you're inspired to elaborate, feel free. You can use a sentence a page, explaining each item. Whether or not you elaborate, be sure to fill in the blanks.
Now, dedicate your prayers or wishes so that they may serve others too. Spend a few moments composing your wish that whatever benefit may have accrued through these exercises also be put to work for the benefit of others. It can be as simple as "I hope that what I learn can serve others," "I don't know how, but may my work here be helpful to others," or "I dedicate whatever good has arisen today to a higher power."
You could use the following traditional verses as a dedication of merit if you like:
By this merit may all attain omniscience.
May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing.
From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death,
From the ocean of samsara, may I free all beings.
The important thing is that your generosity be genuine. Touch in with your natural tenderness, and let your words emanate from that feeling.
Now read either of the books you've brought or relax until bedtime.
Try to get to sleep by 10:00 or 11:00.CHAPTER 2
Day Two: The Day of Self-Remembering
But when the self speaks to the self, who is speaking? — the entombed soul, the spirit driven in, in, in to the central catacomb; the self that took the veil and left the world.
— VIRGINIA WOOLF
In the rush of everyday life, in trying to meet the demands of family, work, and health, we simply forget who we are. While returning phone calls, reading e-mail, doing errands, taking care of others, trying to take care of self — we don't have time to remember who we are. Our energy is continually going out, directed at people and tasks. Today, you turn that energy around and direct it to yourself. With great respect, appreciation, and dignity, turn inward. Let today be the quietest day of your life.
Wake up. Fix your coffee or tea.
7:30-8:00 A.M. SHAMATHA MEDITATION: 20 MINUTES
Go to your meditation spot. Take your small alarm clock and this book, if you want to review the meditation instructions before practicing. I've included a refresher on Shamatha practice here. If you have brought a candle or incense, light it. Take a few moments to settle in and find the correct posture. When you feel that you're ready, set your alarm clock for twenty minutes and begin to practice. When the alarm sounds, turn it off and sit for a few moments before you rise.
Dedicate the merit.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. If you are planning to sit on a cushion on the floor, dress in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
Take your seat and review the points of posture: Sit on an even surface, legs crossed comfortably or feet flat on the floor (if on a chair); back is straight but relaxed, hands are resting on the thighs, palms down, eyes are open but soft, gaze is forward and down to a spot a few feet in front of you, mouth is closed but lips are slightly parted.
Before beginning the actual practice, remind yourself what you are doing, that you are about to meditate, that you will give it your all, and that during this brief time everything else can wait.
Now you are ready to start.
* * *
8:00-8:30 A.M. FREE WRITING
If you look into your mind, you will see it's like thousands of butterflies whirling about! You can hardly trace a single idea in this complexity. A way to bring clarity to the mind is to write down your immediate thoughts and feelings in response to the events of the day, and then ponder them. If you emphasize one particular problem in this writing, it will gradually lead to all others.
— J. KRISHNAMURTI
You'll need your pen and journal for the exercise. Sit comfortably on a chair, the sofa, or your bed. This journaling exercise is called free writing, automatic writing, or as named by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way, "morning pages." You will write three pages — whatever comes to mind, write it down. Simply keep your hand moving across the page, and don't worry about making your words elegant, grammatical, or sensible. There is no need to be logical. Just keep going. If you can't think of anything to write, just write "I can't think of anything to write" for three pages. Free writing has a number of purposes: It clears the head of gobbledygook, lets you know what mood you're in right now, offers solutions to problems, gives space for whining and complaining, and connects you directly to your most creative impulses. Writing three pages should take about thirty minutes. No one will ever read these pages. You don't ever have to read them either.
Free writing is a powerful tool — it teaches you how to listen within yourself and trust what arises. Our minds are usually speedy and busy. This exercise slows your thinking down, thought by thought. As you continue to tune in, you will be able to hear all your different voices: encouraging, shaming, wise, childish, brave, and insecure. There are dozens of voices, making dozens of yous, including a you that grew up believing what your teachers or parents said, a you that urges you forward, protects you from pain, believes you are lovable, or jeers at you from the sidelines. Through attention, they begin to separate out. Through your writing, you can learn how they speak (like a child, a stern aunt, or your best girlfriend) and what brings them forward in your inner dialogue. In free writing, you can begin to hear the voices "talk" to one another, engaging in long-standing feuds (the part who believes you're lovable versus the part who jeers at you), creating escape routes (your risk taker versus the one who keeps you safe), and figuring out how to love (codependent you versus warrior goddess you).
As you get to know yourself, you will find — invariably, there are no exceptions — wisdom you had no idea you possessed. It comes forward when you least expect it to point you in the right direction, tell you whether or not to stay in school or take a job, help figure out if falling in love with so-and-so is a brilliant move or a confused one, teach you to distinguish what brings healing from what reinforces neurosis. Sometimes your writing will be one whine after another or endless to-do lists. But if you make three pages of writing a daily practice, and if your inner wisdom knows you will keep the appointment, it will show up for you. The only rule is to begin the practice without agenda. Simply sit down, pick up your journal, and start writing. Writing longhand engages this process more than writing at the computer. It is more intimate and relaxed, and it forces you to slow down.
It takes practice to hear your best self, and you certainly can't force it to happen, but if you are patient and respectful, your inner wisdom will come out. It wants to come out when the ground has been prepared properly, and somehow, disciplined practice is that proper preparation. Claudio Naranjo, a pioneer of the Human Potential Movement, once said, "Only repetition invites spontaneous variation." This is a wonderful description of the fruits of discipline. It's only by playing the same piece over and over again that the musician learns to improvise skillfully.
Here are a few recent examples from my free-writing journal that illustrate how the practice begins. If I can embarrass myself this way, so can you.
As usual, I'm kind of late getting to what is most important. I feel a little speedy — maybe in part because yesterday was such a buzz. In deep conversation with PR. Very motivating conversation with Michael. Had a short interview. A lot of talking, which made me tired. When I click on conversation with PR, I feel full and safe for some reason. Odd because the conversation was about shadowy things. But it makes me feel connected up somehow. I should make note of that idea I had after I hung up the phone yesterday. I have an endless list of boring things to do today....
It's very, very cold where I'm sitting right now, on a platform waiting for the train to NYC. A very chilly April morning and I feel very nervous. Am looking forward to going shopping this afternoon. I want to look good. Have to consider how to answer Lisa's questions. I can talk about it in simple, everyday terms without being fake, superficial, or egg-heady. Tomorrow I have to co-teach that course. It's the first class. When will I have time to do the reading I'm supposed to do? I can get to it after lunch, should have a little break. I have to figure out a better way to treat the things that are most important. Shouldn't just shoehorn them. It would be great to slow down, or to even know how....
Oh it is so lovely to wake up in the morning and start the day in complete quiet. It just feels so good and safe to me. So enjoyable and relaxed and there are so many possibilities. Here's my flash on their response to the articles I wrote. I think they think it's decent. But do I think it's substantial enough? Getting ready for breakfast with Rob, I hope his kids are okay. It was so fun to work with him on those music projects and I want to remember to lend him that book. Oh no I hope I'm not getting a headache, I really, really want to have a lot of energy today....
I'm sure you get the idea. My writing almost always starts out in this vein. But in the ten years I've been doing this exercise, it usually (not always) happens that somewhere within these three pages, I tell myself something important — a cool idea, a smart solution, or unspoken feelings. This happens probably 80 percent of the time. In the other 20 percent, I have run the gamut from making endless to-do lists to suddenly encountering an enormous reservoir of rage, grief, or disappointment. I've also heard the voice of someone who is unbelievably petty and that of someone who is shockingly profound. You never know.
8:30–10:30 A.M. BREAKFAST, CLEANUP, RELAXATION
I mean really relax. If you do yoga, unfurl your mat and do some stretches or, even better, restorative poses. Read for pleasure. Go back to sleep. Let yourself slow down.
Excerpted from Freedom from Fear by Susan Piver. Copyright © 2007 Susan Piver. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.